You Don’t Need to Be a Creative Genius

You don’t need to be a marketing genius to have a successful entrepreneurial business. You can get by very well by identifying marketing genius in someone else and leveraging it.

I had lunch recently with “John.” He owns and runs one of the most successful direct-marketing jewelry businesses in the country. They sell their products directly to their own customers and indirectly through the catalogs of some very large and well-known chain stores.

When I met John, about 15 years ago, his business was doing about $10 million or $20 million annually. Today, it grosses more than $150 million and is very profitable. He credits his success to a database marketing program that he developed over several years.

“I’m no marketing genius,” he told me. “I don’t write copy. I don’t come up with amazing ideas. I’m just a careful thinker who looks at the numbers and tries to understand what they mean.”

For John, the numbers are customer-response results: how much and how often certain groups of customers make purchases. By reviewing marketing and sales reports, he can identify which advertising campaigns bring in customers with the greatest lifetime value to the business. “When I find a copywriter or marketer who improves lifetime value, I reward them with a slice of the pie. That gives them an incentive to work with me in the future. They do the hard work of coming up with the new ideas and offers. I just have to keep track of their performance and make sure they are well compensated when they succeed.”

In the time I’ve known John, I’ve seen him build his business exponentially. I’ve seen him do that while many of his competitors have struggled and even failed. Included in that group of losers are several bona-fide marketing geniuses. But they made critical marketing mistakes because they didn’t pay enough attention to the numbers. In the direct-response business, nothing is more important than the math.

We all like to come up with the creative breakthrough. But if we neglect the quotidian work, all the bright ideas in the world will not save us.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]